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January 24, 2011

ASHEVILLE, N.C. - Fracking is an unfamiliar term to most North Carolinians, but environmental groups maintain that Tarheelers should learn about its impact. The word describes a process that involves blasting rock underground with a chemical/water mixture to extract deep pockets of natural gas. The process is currently illegal in North Carolina, but mining companies are contacting some landowners about the possibility of mining their land in the event the process is legalized.

Clean Water for North Carolina Outreach Coordinator Rachel Lang-Balde explains the concern.

"The problem with fracking, like any sort of explosion underground, is you can't predict for sure that it's not going to affect the water table. Once the ground water is affected, there's no returning."

North Carolina has a significant number of gas shales in the central part of the state that, if harvested, could prove lucrative for mining companies. Currently, it is illegal to drill horizontally in the state and to inject liquids into the ground - two methods necessary for fracking.

Supporters of the process say it could bring jobs to the area. However, fracking opponents say the risk to the ground water could have a direct impact on human health.

Aside from the risk of gas entering the water table, Lang-Balde warns that cancer rates could increase in areas where fracking is permitted. She's especially concerned about the contents of the chemical/water mixture used in the process.

"Scientists have determined what some of these chemicals are. They are known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors - lots of really toxic things."

Based on the 2005 Energy Act, companies do not have to disclose the exact chemicals used in their fracking process.

Fracking opponents point out that those who use well water are at particular risk from the impact of fracking, and that 2.5 million people depend on well water in the state.


Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC